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In this article, the maritime experts at Robson Forensic provide an introduction into the anatomy of a personal watercraft, as well as some of the operational issues that are commonly central to cases involving PWCs.

Personal Watercraft

According to US Coast Guard statistics, Personal Watercraft (PWC) were associated with 764 injuries and 44 deaths in 2011. The Marine Practice Group at Robson Forensic frequently investigates and reconstructs incidents involving PWCs; including issues related to operator actions, Rules of the Road, safe operating distance/speed, and proper lookout.

PWC Anatomy

PWC Operation

PWC Configurations - PWCs exist in three main styles or configurations: 1) stand-up, 2) sit-down sport class (one or two people), and 3) sit-down three or four person. The stand-up style carries only one person who stands while operating the vessel, while the sit-down styles have seats for one to four people.

Handling/Maneuverability - PWCs are propelled by the thrust of a jet pump. The pump draws water into the housing and forces the water in a stream out through a steerable nozzle at the rear of the pump housing. When the handlebars are turned, the nozzle directs the stream from side to side turning the craft. If the engine is not pushing the jet of water, there will be no thrust to steer the craft. Without throttle, PWCs have no steering and no way to avoid obstacles.

Unpredictable Heading – The speed and agility of PWCs contributes to the thrill of operating these vessels, but may cause uncertainty for other boaters, especially if PWCs are not strictly following the established Rules of the Road.

Avoid a Collision - The Rules of the Road include the actions to take when encountering another vessel on the water. Some of the most common situations are: overtaking, meeting head on, and crossing the bow of another vessel. In each case, one boat is designated as the “give-way” vessel and is required to yield to the other boat, while the other boat, designated as the “stand-on” vessel, should maintain its course and speed.

Low Visibility - The shallow draft design of PWCs allows them to be operated in shallow waters and close to shore, but can also make them difficult for other vessels to see, particularly when dead in the water.

Certifications - Certification requirements vary from state to state and may require that PWC operators complete coursework and maintain a certificate of boating safety on their body.

Our experts can speak to PWC operation and Rules of the Road as they specifically apply to your case.

 

Featured Expert

Bartley J. Eckhardt, P.E.
Arthur Faherty, CMI
Carl F. Wolf, CMM, CMI
Terence M. Harvey

Terence M. Harvey
Aquatics, Boating & Waterfront Safety Expert

Terry worked for Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division for more than a decade, where he reached the rank of Captain. Terry wrote the PWC Operations manual and In-Service Training manual for Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division. He was also a lead instructor for PWC and Inflatable Rescue Boat Operations for California Boating and Waterways Rescue Boat Operation Classes. Terry operated PWC and other watercraft daily in the course of his duties. He is a certified Operator and Instructor of Personal Watercraft and Inflatable Rescue Boats by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.